By Josh Jorgensen
Editor’s note: After this editorial was written, e-bike service has been discontinued in Tacoma.
A progressive form of motorized transportation has arrived in Grit City! Bird and Lime scooters had their September launch in Tacoma and the ride has been smooth so far.The 250 scooters and 100 e-bikes and are scattered throughout town. In addition to being found often in denser mixed-use areas, both types of machines have been spotted as far south as South 56thStreet and South Tacoma Way and as far east as East 56thStreet and McKinley Avenue.
However, as we learned with the local Uber launch, occasionally our elected leaders feel the need to regulate problems that do not exist. You might recall the extended discussion concerning which rules car-sharing drivers would have to follow in order to keep taxis competitive due to their outdated requirements.
Scooters are like bikes and should be regulated similarly. The goal should be to encourage non-automobile options as well as to support good policies that encourage responsible actions by everyone involved. Bad behavior can happen anytime, anywhere. It is not the action that should be regulated, but rather the outcome. Just like with bikes, accidents and collisions will occur and when they do, everyone involved should do the right thing to support positive outcomes.
Ultimately, scooters are as safe or safer than any other transportation use including cars. Scooter use will reduce the number of car miles travelled in the city, making Tacoma overall safer.
Because of their low cost, scooters in Tacoma help low-income riders the most. In addition to Lime’s discount program for lower income riders, the company has also found ways for users to ride without needing a smartphone or even a credit card. In terms of scooter acceptance, individuals earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year are most supportive of the transportation mode, while people earning more than $200,000 are least interested. Additionally, more women than men are interested in trying these scooters. These electric bikes and scooters by their very nature are a benefit to low-income Tacoma residents and visitors.
Environmentally, scooters will reduce pollution. They will reduce the need to build ugly, surface-level parking lots and they will get people to interact with their surroundings in a more engaging way, which is far more important than the fear of “visual clutter” that some say occurs when scooters are parked.
The Tacoma City Council should resist the impulse to add a litany of regulations to scooters that would likely make them unfeasible for companies and riders. Yes, we know scooters are new and will take some time to get used to. However, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Tacoma should embrace shareable scooters and bikes with as little regulation as possible. Support the City’s goals of a more walkable, environmentally responsible and inclusive city.
Joshua Jorgensen is a Tacoma resident.